Water is essential to life on earth – certainly human life at least – and there’s not always enough when and where it’s needed most. Environmental scientists project that by 2025, increasing global population will lead to a 40% increase in water consumption needs. This reality is leading many researchers to declare water the most valuable precious resource of the twenty-first century.
It makes sense then, that access to naturally-occurring clean drinking water is considered to be a universal human right, and that intentionally preventing that access is a serious human rights violation.
Considering the circumstances many impoverished nations of the world find themselves in – with their natural water sources polluted and contaminated beyond viable consumption, it would seem that accessing clean water from underground aquifers is a great idea. Of course, that depends on who’s running the program and for what purpose.
What’s actually happening is that Nestlé corporation, the world’s largest food company, is buying land near regions with water shortages, pumping clean water up from the underground aquifers that naturally occur in these areas, bottling this water, and selling it for a healthy profit back to the people who should have rightfully owned it in the first place.
As you can imagine, the profit margin is astounding. And while the most obvious impact of this resource-looting can be seen in drought-stricken and impoverished regions in Africa, this isn’t just a third world problem.
For example, in Wellington County, Ontario, one Nestlé water packaging operation is estimated to pay only $3.71 for every million liters of water it pumps from the local watershed. It then packages this water in single-use plastic bottles and sells it back to the public for as much as $2 million!
This is happening around the world, and – not surprisingly – in many places where drought and/or pollution have increased the demand for bottled water. In a way, this privatization is incentivizing pollution, making it profitable for local populations to have limited access to clean water.
Consider the water troubles Flint, Michigan has experienced in recent years. Here is an entire modern, industrialized city essentially dependent on bottled water. It’s worth noting that Swiss-owned Nestlé owns three wells in the Muskegon River watershed in Michigan, from which they have pumped over 4 billion gallons of clean water, which they are then able to sell back to the citizens of Michigan for an insane profit.
This is obviously controversial, and legal battles have been fought. In fact, Nestlé had plans to open a facility in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania that would pump 200,000 gallons of water a day from the local aquifer. The local citizens fought back and created enough of a backlash that Nestlé actually backed down and scrapped their plans.
It’s a fight worth fighting. There is a very real clash of ideologies and the world’s most precious resource at stake. The CEO of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck has famously stated that “access to water should not be a human right”, and he can justify this opinion by asserting that his company has provided access to water for people who previously didn’t have it. Let’s not forget, though, the reason behind this activity. It’s certainly not altruism. The reason is profit, and global corporations of this size have shown they will go to any length to maximize it.